Avengers: Endgame

Avengers: Endgame ★★★½

AVENGERS: ENDGAME - the wrap-up to the MCU's first collective run of 20+ movies (not counting the upcoming SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME, which is apparently the "official" wrap to the series' Third Phase) - is both a major achievement, and also just another Marvel movie, in more ways than one. It's a film almost entirely comprised of expertly executed pay-offs, while also climaxing in a way that a few of its predecessors (not to mention other major blockbusters) have before. It's both incredibly thrilling, and kind of boring. It's emotional, and flat. So, in a weird way, it's the perfect end to this legion of superheroes' time on the big screen: stuffed with moments that are delightful and expected, and as many codas as RETURN OF THE KING (the picture that this no doubt bears more than a passing resemblance to).

It's tough to get into what works and what doesn't without spoiling everything, but the movie starts with a shock, continues down the path of exploring just what Thanos' snap has done to the world, and then comes up with a rather ridiculously comic book-y (in the best way possible) solution to try and make everything right again. What ensues is a three-hour Greatest Hits record that simultaneously retools a few of your favorite characters based on their own lives in the aftermath of holocaust. All of this is absolutely terrific, surprisingly irreverent, and wildly inventive, giving those who've stuck with this franchise (see: pretty much everyone on the planet) a rather brilliant send off, while still setting up just where the hell the MCU goes from here. Plus, there's a bevy of terrific action set pieces, as ENDGAME - both visually and thematically - solidifies the recurring motifs that have already dominated pop cinema for the first half of 2019 (destiny, time travel, doppelgängers, surviving cataclysm).

Then comes the end, which - again, no spoilers - feels like something we've seen a bunch of times in blockbuster cinema. It's all gigantic army CGI smashy-smash spectacle, where the first 2/3rds of the movie was playful and (honestly) kind of idiosyncratic. Granted, mass audiences eat this sort of computer generated mayhem up by the pound, so it's easy to understand why this is logical final conflict the movie arrives at, but it's also tough not to be slightly bored by it all, despite the crazy array of creatures on display. Thankfully, it's mercifully brief, returning to the character driven pathos that makes up the best parts of the movie - I want a whole series of films* based around this picture's transmutation of Hawkeye - and provides a final twenty minutes that are genuinely moving and filled with the kind of teary goodbyes that folks are gonna want out of this collection's swan song.

So, buyer beware to a certain degree. Is this "unlike anything modern blockbusters have ever offered up before" (as so many hack film writers have already tweeted out in the digital ether)? Not really. It's both exactly what you expect, while feeling fresh and only mildly forced. That's the Marvel Way. People die, tears are shed, and new roles/alliances are formed, promising to take us into the future for further adventures. Even the tag line announces "The End", but nothing is ever truly over, as long as there's money to be made. A cynical viewpoint, sure, but that doesn't discount the legitimate cinematic alchemy the MCU's generated over the last decade, mostly because all of these actors are so goddamn good in their roles. That's the element that's going to be missed most going forward, until they discover a new crop of movie stars to save the day twenty-plus times over.

*Or just the upcoming Disney+ episodic run.